10 Books That Dive Deep

Books that explore every fascinating millimetre of a subject

Few things help us understand something like a book. Consider that a really beefy documentary might have 20,000 words.

Now compare that to a relatively short book, say 200 pages. That’s a good 65,000 words. Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace? Five-hundred-and-eighty-seven-thousand (587,000) words.

Okay, so books can be long. But they are also immersive in a way video or even good conversation isn’t. A book that tackles a single topic in great depth gives attentive readers the space to grasp a subject’s complexity, different ways of understanding it, different explanations or views on it. That depth also allows a fuller development of story, so that readers can better understand the feelings of other people, develop fuller empathy, more fully appreciate beauty or trauma. That is why reading creating a brain leap in humans some 6,000 years ago.

And that is also why we want to recommend these 10 books, each of which dives deeply into its subject, whether it be some nearly forgotten aspect of historical culture, analyzing human behaviour for the sake of doing better moving forward, or better understanding specific cultural achievements of people in a place and time. Each of these books offers its own fascinations, its stories shared with great passion by a knowledgeable source:

What Once Was Lost
Frank Smith
SSP Publications

Frank Smith provides a rich history of blacksmithing in Nova Scotia, going back as far as 1605, delving into the art and science of the craft, the work of specific practitioners, the rise, decline and recent renaissance of a tradition and technology that lasted hundreds of years, and helped shape a province.

A Mixed Marriage
Michael Wilkshire
Boulder Books

Michael Wilkshire gives hundreds of years of rich cultural contributions from a French heritage of Newfoundland and Labrador the attention it deserves. Included are the full text of ship’s surgeon CJA Carpon’s Voyage to Newfoundland and four reports from French naval officers who were part of the fisheries protection patrol, most translated for the first time. These texts together offer new insight into life on the French Shore of Newfoundland.

The Mystery Ships of Nova Scotia in the First World War
John Grant
Breton Books

An armed team dressed as ordinary fishermen, sailed into harm’s way, seeking to be attacked by German submarines. Their mission was secret. They could not explain their service to Canada in the First World War. In this respectful history, John N Grant tells the long-buried story of Canada’s Mystery Fleet. He names men who tried to lure U-boats into range and then sailed into anonymity—until now. The historic photographs and text takes readers into a little known part of our history.

Company Store
John Mellor
Breton Books

With all the passion and forward thrust of a terrific novel, John Mellor shares the story of Labour’s Wars in Cape Breton Island, and the making of the character of industrial Cape Breton. The company store itself stands as a powerful symbol for the entire system against which the miners fought—a system wherein the company owned the mines, the homes, the stores and often even the ministers and priests—all with the goal of profits for shareholders and of keeping the workers indebted and in line.

Rebuilding Halifax
Barry Cahill
Formac Publishing

Using the perspectives of law, politics, public policy and intergovernmental relations, historian Barry Cahill describes the complex activities of an almost-unaccountable agency that took the place of municipal, provincial and federal governments in addressing the needs of the citizens and the city after the Explosion. He provides new insight into the pioneering town planning and construction of the Hydrostone neighbourhood in Halifax.

Acadian Driftwood
Tyler LeBlanc
Goose Lane Editions

Acadian Driftwood is a history and a memoir of sorts, and an exploration into the author’s family and roots. It is beautifully written, giving the tale and its details the full life they deserve. Much of that tale is harrowing–the destruction of people’s homes, farms and family ties. LeBlanc spent four years researching the book after learning as an adult about his family’s roots. He writes that the experience “transformed the way I thought about identity, family, and the history of the place I call home.”  

Turning Points
Paul W Bennett
MacIntyre Purcell

Paul W Bennett tells the history of Nova Scotia through 15 key turning points. From Nova Scotia’s problems with Confederation to wartime Halifax, the Springhill Mining Disaster, Viola Desmond and Ray Ivany’s Now or Never report, Bennett recounts these decisive moments that have shaped the province’s destiny.

Lintels of Paris
Thaddeus Holownia
Anchorage Press

Thaddeus Holownia’s Lintels of Paris provides a taste of the urban qualities of Paris, its quartiers and its exquisite architectural details. The large-format volume, featuring over 40 stochastic duotones, offers an unexpected tour of one of the defining features of the “City of Light.” Lintels of Paris accompanies an exhibition of the same name running throughout 2020 at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery.

Various Authors
Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute
This volume explores early African history, including Africa as the birthplace of humanity and early African civilizations. The resource scrutinizes the oppression and resistance of Blacks in Canada, the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America on their march to freedom. It includes a wonderful section on the history of African Nova Scotians.
Dr Ian A Cameron
New World Publishing
Through the story of the Lawlor Island quarantine facility, this work examines quarantine practices and procedures throughout history, with similarities to the self-isolation being practiced within the world today with COVID–19. Describes virulent diseases, quarantine centres, epidemic and pandemic disease and impact on historical immigration.
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